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SAFE HAVEN

SYNOPSIS:
Katie (Julianne Hough) is on the run; she boards a coach headed for Atlanta, but never gets there. She finds herself in the charming tourist spot of Southport, North Carolina, where she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower father of two youngsters, Josh (Noah Lomax) and little Lexie (Mimi Kirkland), who run the general store at the wharf. Meanwhile, a police alert is sent out with a drawing of her face; she's wanted for murder. Katie's self- preservation shield is gradually broken down by Alex, with encouragement from her only neighbour, the watchful Jo (Cobie Smulders), but her recent past is catching up with her.

Review by Louise Keller:
While none of the elements of this Valentine Day release chick-flick are remarkable in themselves, in the gifted hands of director Lasse Hallström, there is definitely magic at work. Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook), the storytelling is effortless as we meet a girl running away from her past, the obsessed policeman hot in pursuit and the young widower, who is trying to be all things to his two young children, as he keeps his head down trying to cope. Lasse Hallström handles the blossoming relationship between Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel with great delicacy as the story of their pasts is revealed and their bond reinforced. The perfect date movie, Safe Haven offers romance, some tension and a few surprises.

When we first meet Katie (Hough) as she surreptitiously boards a bus headed for Atlanta, we know she is running away from something, although we are not sure from what. At the sleepy, picturesque town of Southport, where she finds herself a remote, rustic cottage to sleep and a waitressing job, Katie quickly locks eyes with hunky Alex (Duhamel), who runs the local store.

It is Alex's cute-as-a-button daughter Lexie (Mimi Kirkland) who suggests yellow paint when Katie wants to buy paint for her floor and before long Alex is carrying paint for her, leaving a bicycle outside her door, taking her on family beach outings and generally showing all the signs that he too, has noticed her. Hough and Duhamel are both decorative and Duhamel in particular projects an easy charm that has developed greatly since he first came to notice in 2004 with Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.

The progress of the romance may be predictable but it is nicely done and we can sense the chemistry as she touches his arm, he holds her hand, they dance to the jukebox and there is that tender kiss by the tree near her cabin.

Hallström concentrates on the relationships - not only between Katie and Alex, but also those between Katie and her reclusive neighbour Jo (Cobie Smulders) and Alex and his two young children. Both youngsters are terrific: Noah Lomax as Josh, the son who remembers his mother and Kirkland as the daughter who remembers the idea of her. Kirkland is a real scene stealer. The fact that Alex happens to be friends with one of the local cops conveniently allows him to see the Wanted Poster with Katie's photo, pinned on the police office wall, enabling this part of the plot to take effect.

There's a touch of melodrama in the final reel as Aussie David Lyons, who plays Tierney, the policeman pursuing Katie appears on the scene. This is the only part that feels somewhat heavy-handed and is a rather thankless role for Lyons, who clutches his bottle of 'water' and has little to do but keep a maniacal look in his eye for most of his screen time. The final confrontation under a night sky filled with fireworks is fiery and dramatic before the story finds its inevitable conclusion. Unabashedly a chick flick, there's enough eye candy for all as this gentle and romantic love story hits its mark.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
She's very nice, Katie (Julianne Hough) and so is Alex (Josh Duhamel), as is Southport itself, a picture postcard of a seaside village, complete with a colourful old codger Roger (Red West*), Alex's uncle who helps around the store. Although Lasse Hallström tries to keep us in some sort of suspense with regular reminders that Katie is wanted by the police - especially one very determined officer, Tierney (Australian actor David Lyons) - most of the film is also very nice as the slowly budding romance is observed to bloom with the tentative nature of a snail on dope.

While Katie gets a job at the busy café (natch) and finds a remote cabin to hide away (charming, with breaking floorboards), when she's on her own she avoids company, notably Jo (Cobie Smulders), the tall, dark and attractive young woman who lives nearby and who takes an unusually profound interest in Katie and her welfare.

The early scenes are best, and Mimi Kirkland as little (almost toothless) Lexie instantly steals the film with a vibrant cuteness that resonates.

All the niceness is surrounded by pretty pictures and appropriately selected music, but the tone changes once we're into the third act and the menace that threatens Katie - and by now Alex and his kids - is revealed. To be fair to readers wishing to see the film, I won't divulge the details except to say the secret involves what looks like a crime and the victim of that crime - but appearances can be deceiving and victims are not obvious.

As the danger to everyone's happiness hits town, the niceness gives way to nastiness and there is a violent precursor to the nice ending. That's when the twist in the story is revealed, with all the schmaltzy punch that Hallström can orchestrate. I think Hallström is capable of much better work than this - although there are echoes of Dear John here, echoes I would rather not hear; there are clunky gear shifts and improbably scenarios that jar throughout, not to mention the hotheaded use of handheld cameras here and there. Maybe the novel works better.

* Trivia note: Roger West was a close friend of Elvis Presley and a member of his inner circle, The Memphis Mafia. There is a small Elvis/Memphis Mafia poster on the outside wall of the café that, if you're quick, you'll catch.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 0

SAFE HAVEN (M)
(US, 2013)

CAST: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders, Irene Ziegler, Jon Kohler, David Lyons, Juan Piedrahita

PRODUCER: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Ryan Kavanaugh

DIRECTOR: Lasse Hallström

SCRIPT: Lesley Bohem, Dana Stevens (novel by Nicholas Sparks)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Terry Stacey

EDITOR: Andrew Mondshein

MUSIC: Deborah Lurie

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kara Lindstrom

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 14, 2013







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